Episco-Fact #88
April 19, 2018

Now that we are celebrating feasts again, are there any special English Saints on the Calendar?

This coming Saturday, April 21, we celebrate the Feast of St. Anselm (1033-1109, Archbishop of Canterbury 1093-1109). He is a particularly "English" saint, coming into the See of Canterbury after the Norman Invasion of England, the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and the ascendency of William the Conqueror, and his ecclesiastical career parallels the establishment of the ecclesiology and sociology of the High Middle Ages.

Anselm's Englishness is in quotes because he was born in Lombardy, in what is now Northwest Italy and spent the majority of his monastic life at the monastery at Bec, a Benedictine community in Normandy.

Looking backward on Anselm's career, he now considered the finest western theologian between Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, and quite probably the first "scholastic" theologian, incorporating rationalism into the faith and mysticism of the of the Mediaeval church of the Western Europe. Unlike his predecessors who defended their faith through the use of scriptural and patristic authorities, Anselm defended his faith through intellectual reasoning. This effort characterizes the scholastic period of theology and is seen most clearly in the works of Aquinas.

Anselm's ontological argument was this: "if we mean by God, 'that than which nothing greater can be thought, then we cannot think of this entity except as existing.'" This argument seems to imply that the ability to think of the being implies the existence of the being. Challenged, even, in his own time, it has been an argument held in reasonably high regard in some areas of the Church, and show the shift from belief strictly on faith, to one which attempts to incorporate reason into the system.

It is through his Norman connections at the Monastery at Bec that Anslem comes in the English orbit. His predecessor as Prior at Bec, Lanfranc was called into the service of William the Conqueror being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, as the new king was working to establish his authority on the island after defeating King Harold at Hastings in 1066. After Lanfranc dies in 1089, William II, successor to the conqueror, leaves the see vacant until 1093, when he is convinced to appoint a new Archbishop of Canterbury while he is gravely ill.

Anselm and the successor to William, Henry I, struggle over the investiture of the new Archbishop. It takes five years and two periods of exile before Anselm is allowed to travel to Rome to seek the advice of the Pope and to be invested in his office with the marks of the Episcopacy.

Because of his long list of faithful accomplishments, his being declared a Doctor of the Church in 1760 by Pope Clement IX, his scholastic though and his theory of atonement which of Christ's substitution for all of creation; means that Englishmen everywhere claim him as their own.